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Navigating Through Anti-aging Ingredients

By: Kristina Valiani
Posted: May 31, 2013, from the June 2013 issue of GCI Magazine.

Editor's note: This is the edited version of an article that originally ran in the May 2013 issue of Skin Inc. magazine. All rights reserved.

In today’s culture, both women and men are searching for methods and products to delay the aging process. No one wants their skin to slip the secret of their age or unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as being a sun-worshiper, not getting enough rest or smoking. With so many procedures and skin care products claiming to reverse the signs of aging, it can get confusing for beauty brand owners and marketers to decide which products to create and ingredients to trust. Advertising and marketing claims make it that much more stressful to figure out what’s real and what’s exaggerated.

You must seek out ingredients that have scientific research supporting their claims. With constant advancements in the skin care industry, it’s crucial to understand the results of combining ingredients, which ingredients are the best, and what those top ingredients can realistically offer to the skin. It is also valuable to research what happens to an ingredient if it’s not formulated at the correct percentage or proper pH, as well as becoming aware of a factor that is often overlooked—packaging.

There are many ingredients available to help prevent and diminish the signs of aging. Different categories consist of alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), cell communicators, antioxidants and, of course, SPF.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids

All skin types and conditions will benefit from some method of exfoliation, especially as skin ages. As skin cells age, they tend to desquamate less frequently, causing once young, vibrant cells to turn dry and dull. Skin’s natural desquamation process when cells are young and healthy is a turnover of approximately every 28–30 days.

As skin ages, the process decreases to approximately every 45–60 days. When the process becomes less frequent, using a properly formulated AHA will help speed cell turnover and diminish the appearance of hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles. Because there are several AHAs to choose from, become familiar with which ones are better for skin with particular conditions or tolerances. AHAs exfoliate the surface of the skin while working to improve its moisture content. They cannot penetrate to unclog pores, which is why they often aren’t the first choice for acne-prone skin. Following are the most common types of AHAs.

Lactic acid. Lactic acid is extracted from milk, although most forms used in cosmetics are synthetic. It exfoliates cells on the surface of skin by breaking down the material that holds skin cells together. It may irritate mucous membranes and cause irritation.

Glycolic acid. The smallest molecule in the AHA family, glycolic acid is a colorless, odorless, hygroscopic crystalline solid that is highly soluble in water. It is used in various skin care products and is found in some sugar crops.

Mandelic acid. Also known as amygdalic acid, there is research showing mandelic acid to be an effective alternative to other AHAs, though it does have germicidal activity. Unlike glycolic acid, mandelic acid is light-sensitive and should be packaged in an opaque container.

AHAs must be formulated properly to be effective. Percentage and pH will determine what strength the acid will be and just how the ingredient will perform once applied on the skin.


Antioxidants reduce free radical damage—most consumers are already aware of that. Free radical damage occurs on a molecular, unseen, unfelt atomic level, but it is nevertheless one of the most destructive internal processes that causes both the body and the skin to age.

What exactly are free radicals and why are they so destructive? Molecules are made of atoms and a single atom is made up of protons, neutrons and electrons. Electrons need to be in pairs in order to function properly. When oxygen molecules are involved in a chemical reaction, they can lose one of their electrons. Now the oxygen molecule has only one electron and is called a free radical. Free-radical damage causes mutation and damage to the DNA in your cells, and damaged DNA means your skin, now not able to generate healthy new collagen, creates malformed cells and slows the skin’s ability to heal. Antioxidants can stop free-radical damage, but they lose their potency when repeatedly exposed to oxygen and sunlight. Ironic that the two share that weakness, yes, but it’s actually proof of how antioxidants work in the presence of oxygen and light. With this issue, an antioxidant-focused product should be packaged appropriately to deliver at its highest potential. Alpha lipoic acid, beta glucan, coenzyme Q10, grape seed extract, green tea, soybean, vitamins C and E, and pomegranate all have antioxidant ability.